There are all kinds of reasons why runners take time off. Life gets busy, no doubt about it. Unless you're training for an upcoming race, jogging simply may not be your highest priority. You could also suffer an injury that puts you out of commission and takes you off the running circuit for a while. Or maybe you went through pregnancy and childbirth.
That said, you'll probably want to return to your favorite exercise at some point. How do you go about getting back into your running routine after some time off? Here are a few ways to do so in a smart and safe manner.
Start at the Beginning
Although you now consider yourself a seasoned runner, and your body is sure to bounce back more quickly because of it, you can't just pick back up where you left off when you've been out of the game for a while. Your body conditioning will have waned through lack of maintenance and you simply won't have the same strength and stamina as when you were last running.
You need to treat your running regimen as though you were a newbie to some extent, although it will depend on how much you used to run and how long you've been away from the activity. If you run regularly and you took a week off, you can probably just pick back up with no problem.
If it's been longer, then you'll need to cut back to a percentage of the distance and speed you were running before your break and work back up to your previous distance more slowly. For example, if you've taken off a couple of weeks, you should start back at about 70% of your previous distance, whereas a month or more off will set you back to about 50%.
If you've been out of the game for three or more months, you really need to start your training from the beginning. Again, however, this will vary by runner. Someone who is used to running 5K may have a very different starting point than someone accustomed to running marathons.
Longer Warm Up and Cooldown
When your body is in shape, which is to say, strong and limber, you might not need the same warm up and cooldown to function at peak capacity and avoid aches, pains, and injuries. However, taking time off will cause your body to lose the strength and endurance you built up through ongoing training.
What this means is your body simply isn't as prepared to meet your demands or recover after exercise. You need to provide extra warm up and cooldown time while reconditioning your body, especially if the reason you took time off was to recover from an injury.
Listen to Your Body
Serious runners are used to pushing themselves, but the twinges you feel when you've been training for a while are different than what you'll experience when you start back up cold. Or at least, the causes and consequences are different.
Whereas pain when you're running many miles a week over the course of several weeks could signal muscles fatigue, for example, pains when you just start running could be due to injuries related to weakness and a lack of flexibility, and pushing through could make things worse.
When you return to running after an extended absence, you need to pay special attention to what your body is telling you. A failure to pay attention early on could lead to serious or worsening injuries that might derail your new regimen before it really gets started.
Running every day is not exactly a recipe for success if you want to regain (and even exceed) your previous level of conditioning. In fact, performing the same exercise routine daily, especially a high-impact activity like running, could do more harm than good.
You need to give your muscles time to recover from strain, but you don't necessarily have to forego your daily physical boost. You can add cross-training as a means of continuing to build strength and stamina and improve cardiopulmonary function.
As an added bonus, certain exercise can help to improve your running form and performance. Other types of cardio exercise like swimming or cycling have far less impact but still increase your heart rate and breathing, as well as strengthening muscles.
You might also add yoga as a means of working on core strength and improving flexibility. Many runners tend to suffer from tight, achy muscles, especially in the legs. Yoga can be a real boon, as can many other types of cross-training.
Improving your running form will not only dramatically reduce your chances of suffering overuse injuries, but it'll also make running more enjoyable and even faster. And the best part is that you can do it right now.
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